Being the role model she wishes she'd had - why Furkan Karayel is a true tech trailblazer
"I always tell people I’m building a foundation for a house. I don’t know if my generation will be able to live in the house, or my kids' generation, but I’m building the house anyway."
Tech businesses change and grow at a rapid rate – but how long does it take to change company culture?
Software engineer-turned-entrepreneur Furkan Karayel doesn't have the answer to that question but she's working to make sure that that change happens regardless. She is one of the people leading the drive for diversity and inclusion in Ireland's tech industry.
Originally from Turkey, Furkan was always interested in computing growing up. It wasn't a subject available to her in school but she enjoyed maths and problem-solving. She dreamed of a career in tech but felt she didn't have a role model in that world. She studied in Istanbul and then at Athlone IT before starting her career as a software engineer with Ericsson in Athlone in 2005.
Those first years in work were somewhat isolating, she admits. Her industry was dominated by men and once again, there was no-one for her to look up to.
"It’s lonely if you are the only person like you," Furkan tells Her of her early experiences as a woman in Irish tech.
"Add your minority into the equation, and there are even fewer people."
Furkan didn't know whether she would be able to advance when she didn't see anyone like her in senior roles, she says.
"Everyone wants to get to the next step but will you be accepted?"
It's no secret that tech has a diversity problem. Just 20 per cent of the Irish tech workforce is made up of women, Furkan tells us. The percentage of high-level jobs held by women is far smaller. It's something that plagues the industry worldwide – but that didn't mean Furkan was simply going to sit back and accept it.
In 2018 she established Diverse In, a global D&I platform. The organisation offers consulting, workshops and events to help companies build inclusive workplaces.
Just over a year into the business she now has 20 team members across five countries, each with an expertise in areas ranging from LGBT and gender equality to disabilities and ethnic diversity.
"I always wanted to be a trailblazer."
Diverse In is driven by Furkan's own personal determination to be the change she wishes to see in her industry. Positivity has been a key ingredient in its success, she believes.
"If you’re not hopeful for the future you will never achieve change.
"Personally, I’m a positive person and believe bringing positive people, high energy people together makes things much, much easier."
But how willing are companies to change? Understanding around D&I has increased in the past few years, Furkan says, and there is genuine interest in improving things but action doesn't happen overnight.
"It will take a bit more time to see the real changes.
"I always tell people I’m building a foundation for a house. I don’t know if my generation will be able to live in the house or my kids' generation, but I’m building the house anyway."
The best thing a company can do to foster change, she adds, is to simply create an open and safe environment so staff can speak about the issue and share their thoughts on tackling it. It's important to listen and let them direct the conversation; "that will lead you," she says.
Furkan is committed to making a difference and her efforts haven't gone unnoticed. She won the Trailblazer Award at the Dublin Tech Summit's Women In Tech awards last year.
Not expecting to win, she attended the event to meet other women and make connections. She was taking a video on her phone as her category was being announced and was shocked to hear her name being called out.
"I didn’t know what to do, my friend had to tell me to go up," she says.
"I have the video now and it’s funny to watch. It’s been great, great publicity for me and my business but more so it was a very meaningful category for me. I always wanted to be a trailblazer by promoting diversity so it meant a lot."
This year's Dublin Tech Summit Women In Tech Awards take place at Dublin's RDS on 10 October.
The event, of which Her is official media partner, celebrates inclusivity in what's often seen as a male-dominated industry.
Find out more here.